Toronto, Canada

30 May 2014

Secretary-General's remarks at Summit on Maternal, New-born and Child Health: “Saving Every Woman, Every Child: Within Arm’s Reach” [as delivered]

Good morning. Bon jour.

I thank Prime Minister Harper for his leadership in organizing this very timely summit on a challenge that is so crucial for our future. I would also like to recognize President Kikwete for the enormous contribution he is making for women and children. Both President Kikwete and Prime Minister Harper continue to work closely to achieve accountability for resources and better results.

Key in helping to achieve this has been Canada’s commitment to reducing maternal and childhood mortality through the Muskoka Initiative.  I want to thank sincerely Prime Minister Harper for his ongoing leadership and vision as evidenced by yesterday’s announcement of an additional $3.5 billion between 2015 and 2020.  Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister, again. This will ensure momentum continues.  I call on other leaders of the world and business leaders of the world to follow Canada’s example. 

Improving the health and well-being of women and children is an issue close to my heart and close to my personal experience.  Women’s and children’s health is personal.  Very personal.  Today I would like to share something that I have not shared publicly before until now.  I have been known as the eldest child in my family my entire life.  In fact, I should not have been.  I should have been the third child in my family.  I had an elder sister and an elder brother, but I was never able to meet them. Unfortunately, they died.

When I was a boy, I remember it was considered “normal” to see women and children die in my village. People accepted this as a fact of life. Our food was not sufficient. Women feared giving birth. What should have been the most joyful day was often the scariest or the saddest day instead.

Today, too many people still live that reality around the world. We cannot accept that it is “normal” to lose any woman…any child…anywhere.

We know that healthy women and children provide the foundation that enables societies to grow and flourish. They are the best investment that we can make. That is why I launched the Every Woman Every Child initiative in 2010. I wanted to build on the long-standing efforts of the United Nations and its global partners from all sectors toward achieving the health Millennium Development Goals, and to support our Global Strategy for improving the health and well-being of women and children.

Thanks to many of you in this room and the more than 300 partners of the Every Woman Every Child movement, there has been remarkable improvement in the health of women and children around the world. This has also been possible because, globally, the health community has come together and brought in new and innovative partners.

Last week, I attended the opening ceremony of the Shanghai Municipal Centre for Maternal and Child Health as part of my efforts to highlight the issue. I saw for myself the difference that can be made with smart policies, targeted investment and, most of all, political will at the leaders' level. China is one of the few countries to already meet the goal on child mortality. China has come so very far.

The world is currently reducing under-five deaths faster than at any time in the past two decades. This means 17,000 fewer children dying every day. It means that maternal deaths have been cut by almost half since 1990. That means that more than 6.6. million children are saved in a year.

We should be immensely proud of these achievements. Yet, we still have much to do.

Despite all of our progress, annually, 289,000 women still die while giving life and an estimated 18,000 children die every day, mostly from preventable causes. In particular, an estimated 5.5 million new-born and stillbirth deaths occur every year. We need to redouble our efforts to accelerate progress and ensure no country falls back on the gains made.  This is especially true where there is conflict or a humanitarian disaster.

Looking ahead, our continuing success depends crucially on five factors.

First, strong leadership at the highest levels. In that regard, I really appreciate Prime Minister Harper for your strong effort.

Second, the commitment of multi-stakeholder partners at the country level.

Third, predictable financing.

Fourth, accountability for resources and results.

And fifth, innovation.

All of us, rich and poor nations, the business community, the United Nations and civil society have roles to play in accelerating our efforts to achieve the health MDGs by the 2015 deadline. We must also ensure that women’s and children’s health and well-being in particular is featured as strongly in the new post-2015 development agenda.

We must ensure equity by focussing our efforts on the most vulnerable and hard to reach women and children. It must be our goal to leave no one behind.

Success beyond 2015 depends on us all working together and forging strong partnerships within and outside of the health sector. Yesterday, I met, together with Director-General Margaret Chan, four new low cost innovations for women’s and children’s health, developed through partnerships between sectors. We need to continue to support and scale up new solutions.

Key factors such as water, sanitation, nutrition, education, climate change, energy, gender equality and women’s empowerment – also play a crucially important role in improving health. This is especially true when it comes to addressing non-communicable diseases, for which inaction is a global risk we simply cannot afford. 

Health should be at the centre of sustainable development. With sustained and increased investments and a focus on equity and human rights, a world with zero preventable maternal and child deaths can be achieved within a generation. It is our duty not only to ensure survival but to enable these women and children to thrive.

So let us together today commit to deliver a world of health, safety and possibility for every woman and every child. Let no children grow up without a mother.  Let no mother have to grieve a lost child.  Let every boy and every girl have the opportunity to know and enjoy their sisters and brothers.  That world is possible, if we work together, now, today.

Thank you.